Rami Abou Jabr grew up in a middle class family in Homs, Syria. He never expected the devastation of his homeland and his family that would come in 2011. He had a normal Syrian childhood; his father worked as a cab driver and his mother stayed at home to care for the children, including Rami, his brother Raed, who was born with developmental disabilities, and 2 sisters. After high school Rami went to university while working in a granite factory, finishing granite countertops. After finishing his associates in veterinary science, be began assisting a veterinarian with caring for cows and eventually chickens, providing them with vaccinations. Rami stated that there were probably 5,000 chicken at each site where they worked. He liked working with animals because he was able to care for them and know that they were all being treated well.
Everything began to change when the Syrian revolution started in March of 2011. Rami remembers that at first there were just protestors in the Homs region. Then the government and police counteracted and things became increasingly violent. From their home the family could hear the gunfire outside the city. A short time later the violence and aggression moved through the city itself. In Rami’s neighborhood people were leaving in large numbers, until only those who had lived there for a lifetime were left. Rami’s family stayed at first because his father was ill and needed regular medical treatment. But he often would not go the hospital because it was periodically taken over by soldiers and was not safe.
Rami fled to neighboring Turkey to try to find a safe home and work so that he could take care of his family, including his wife Rajaa and their 2 children. He eventually found work as an air conditioner repairman and sent for Rajaa and the children. She made the difficult journey to Turkey alone with their 3 year old son and their one year old daughter. She took whatever rides she could get, going from car to car. She did not know the people who transported her and the trip was both dangerous and frightening.
While Rami and Rajaa were in Turkey, Rami’s father died because he could not get the medical care he needed. This was a huge blow to the family, and especially to Raed who was always close to his father, who took special care of him because of his challenges. Rapidly, conditions in Homs became even more dangerous, and Rami’s mother could not even take the time to mourn her husband according to their customs. Instead she gathered the family and fled to join Rami in Turkey.
With the whole family in Turkey and his father gone, Rami held the weighty responsibility of caring for his own family, plus his mother, brother and sisters. His mother and 2 sisters worked in a garment factory for a time, but they often did not have enough money to pay rent or to purchase food. They remember being treated poorly because they were Syrian refugees without rights or protections. Local citizens saw them as a drain on the society and employers could choose to mistreat or cheat them without any consequences.
After applying to the United Nations and being referred for resettlement to the United States, the family arrived in Aurora in 2015. Other members of their extended family have also fled Syria, some recently making it to Germany. Rami and Rajaa say that they thank God for being able to come to the U.S. because they know that many people do not have this chance. They want to make the best of this opportunity, and dream of a good education for their children. They are thankful for the labor laws of the U.S. and that their employers here do not mistreat or abuse them and that they pay a fair, consistent wage. In the U.S. they have found respect and a new home.
Rami hopes in future to continue his education and return to working with animals. He also wants to share the story of his family so that others will understand the trials of the Syrian people, but also so that they will know that there is hope.
Rami and Rajaa will be joining WRDA on Thursday, November 12 at 7 p.m. at Café K’Tizo in Wheaton for a special event, “Spotlight on Syria.” The event is open to the public and World Relief staff will be sharing about the Syrian refugee crisis and our global and local response.